JJ Redick considers himself a pirate.
Not the swashbuckling, high-seas, treasure-seeking brand of pirate. Instead, think of illegally downloading music from the depths of the internet.
“[Like] a pirate of music,” Redick said earlier this season. “I’m a pirate of shooting. I steal things from people and then use it for my own benefit.”
Redick is certainly not the first NBA thief, but the nature of how players steal from each other has evolved and become more cyclical than ever.
For Redick it started with Ray Allen in the late ’90s. He credits the hall of famer for the foundation on which Redick’s shooting skill set was built. That foundation, of course, was taken, not given.
Then, at Duke, in the early 2000s, Redick would watch Sacramento Kings games, lasering in on Peja Stojakovic.
“Peja was one of the first guys that was hunting threes in transition," Redick said.
He noted the unorthodox release of Stojakovic, and how he didn’t adjust the seams of the basketball before shooting.
“Typically in a game you don’t have time so you just have to shoot the ball, even if it’s off the seams,” Redick said. “I took that from Peja.”
After entering the league in 2006, Redick was a peer of his idols, no longer a spectator from afar. He would start picking apart the games of his teammates and guys he was playing against, including contemporaries like Kyle Korver, who was also busy stealing from anyone and everyone including Stojakovic, Allen, Reggie Miller, Rip Hamilton, and Steve Kerr.
“Peja was my favorite,” Korver said on a recent East Coast trip. “He had a funky shot and he threw me off for like two years. He was my favorite.”
When Chris Webber was dealt to the Sixers from the Kings in 2005, Korver, a Sixer at the time, said he was wide-eyed and couldn’t think about anything outside of getting stories from Webber about Stojakovic, his former teammate.
In 2012, Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson entered the NBA ranks. By that point, the three-point shot was already rising to prominence as king of the NBA and pure shooters needed to have a more dynamic game.
Instead of looking at the players that came before him, Redick started looking at the budding stars and the new tricks they were bringing into the game, taking what he wanted along the way. In the 2013-14 season, Redick spotted something he wanted from the Beal playbook.
“The rifle action, catch-and-go, I started doing that in L.A. That’s straight Bradley Beal," Redick said. “I took that. He scored like 25 points on me my first year in L.A. and I was like ‘Oh, I’m taking that.'”
Beal hadn’t realized that Redick stole that from him, but now, thinking about all the games he’s played against Redick since then, it made sense.
“That’s all he does now, that’s crazy,” Beal said. “You see JJ and if he doesn’t have a shot he throws it to a big, gets it right back, and it’s going up. I remember my first couple years in the league that’s all I would do; it was me and Nene, that was our play.”
Redick and Korver both took notice of shooters who were using close, physical defenders to their advantage. Rather than create space, running a defender into the screen or pulling them closer to draw a foul became advantageous. Beal and Thompson were particularly good at this, so Redick took it.
“Guys have spent a lot of time, not just shooters but everyone, on how to draw fouls,” Korver said. “Getting to the free throw line is almost like a game of its own. Guys develop moves to draw fouls. A lot of that is changing speed or knowing when a screen is coming and if someone is coming over the top of it, how can you use that against them.”
The cyclical nature of NBA thieving had come full circle now. What Redick didn’t know, or didn’t realize, was that the same players he was stealing moves from had been watching and stealing from him for years.
“I would watch and study those guys, even before they were in the NBA,” Thompson said. “I watched Kyle at Creighton and watched JJ at Duke when I was a kid.”
With games and video clips more accessible than ever, Redick’s pirated loot was being raided by the same players he would admire years later.
For the younger players, it’s hard to believe that they’re the ones the veterans of the league are stealing from now.
“I watched them as they were coming up, to see how they position themselves, look at their footwork, set up to rise up and shoot,” Thompson said. “To now hear that they’re doing the same thing I was doing, it’s surreal and it’s motivating.”
It’s that footwork and positioning that the Kings’ Buddy Hield said his coaches were always pointing out and it’s the knowledge of the footwork and pace-changing action that Redick was giving to Landry Shamet before the rookie was traded to the Clippers.
In a copy-cat league, the cycle is never ending. Korver noted that the last player he looked to steal a move from was, in fact, Redick and it was just earlier this season. He tried emulating the two-man action that Joel Embiid and Redick have nearly perfected. The results, he said, haven’t been as successful as he would like.
“JJ makes it look easy,” he said.
As a player, Kerr would try to copy Jeff Hornacek and Craig Hodges. Now, Kerr coaches two of the league’s best shooters in Thompson and Stephen Curry, a pair that scores of future NBA stars are studying, raiding their treasure trove of moves.